Change is coming to enlisted professional military education ensuring the new realities of strategic competition are addressed and emphasizing joint education, the Senior Enlisted Advisor to the Chairman Ramón "CZ" Colón-López said.
The changes mirror what is happening in the force, he said.
Colón-López and the other senior enlisted leaders have issued "Developing Enlisted Leaders for Tomorrow's Wars" – an in-depth look at the vision they have for professional military education.
Tied to it is the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff publication “Enlisted Professional Military Education.” Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Kristofer Reyes, the manager for enlisted joint professional military education on the Joint Staff, worked with Colón-López to see the project to fruition.
The idea of "joint" has grown over the years. In the 1960s, it meant two or more services worked together – mostly at the senior levels.
Military leaders saw the advantages of the services working together, and the move since then has been to plan together and fight together. What started with senior officers has pushed down the ranks – officer and enlisted – with the realization that even entry-level service members need to know something about the capabilities provided by members of other services.
In Iraq, it was not unusual for an Army patrol to go outside the wire, with Air Force and Navy personnel helping defend against the improvised explosive device threat. Air Force, Army, Marine or Navy aircraft may have provided the close-air support needed. Persistent observation may have come from any of the services; overarching everything would be satellite communications and surveillance – usually run by the Air Force, but not always.
Service members still have to know the procedures and capabilities of their own services first, but they also need to understand the advantages that working as a joint force team provides.
But it now goes even beyond that. The military works as part of a whole-of-government team. The civilian agencies – the departments of State, Treasury, Justice, Agriculture and more – provide capabilities that can be crucial to the success of U.S. security efforts.
The place to learn about the joint force concept can't be on the battlefield, on the fly, Colón-López said. This is why he oversaw a revision of the enlisted professional military education effort – emphasizing the joint nature of operations and the responsibilities of noncommissioned officers and petty officers to lead the way.
Army Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, gave Colón-López his marching orders soon after taking office in October 2019. "He asked me to look at the way that we were professionally educating our enlisted force, specifically, on the joint enterprise and how we need to go ahead and start shaping it for strategic competition," the SEAC said in an interview.
After 20 years of counterinsurgency operations, enlisted professional military education emphasized the counterterrorism fight, he said. That had to change as the force confronts the strategic challenges arising from China and Russia.
Counterinsurgency efforts will still be a part of PME courses. Colón-López said the threats from terrorism haven't disappeared, but the courses will be broader.
"So, we started looking at the Keystone course," he said. Keystone is the top-level enlisted PME course. "In the process of looking at Keystone, we identified a gap: That is, that while the services get a little bit of joint education for enlisted throughout their PME, it's not enough."
Colón-López worked with the service senior enlisted advisors looking at the timing for joint PME. "Long story short, we decided E-6, E-7 is the sweet spot because by that point, they have enough time in service to understand the culture and what is required from their services,” he said. "[These noncommissioned officers and petty officers] know their trade, and they're well ingrained on what an NCO or petty officer does."
They devised a course that Colón-López calls "Keystone-minus" to bridge that gap. Aimed at E-6 and E-7s, it is a two-week, in-residence joint professional military education course. "It will cover everything from the way that laws are made to the way that budgets are passed to the way that the orders come down from the civilian leadership to the joint force," he said. "It also will cover the ways the services support the combatant commands and how they execute orders. So, that's really what the course is going to go ahead and cover."
The course begins in March. There will be two Gateway classes per year, and they will be held at the National Defense University at Fort Lesley J. McNair in Washington D.C.
"What we owe the chairman, the joint chiefs and the Department of Defense are the best educated, knowledgeable and action-oriented NCOs and POs," Colón-López said. "If we are not doing that, we're not going to be any better than any other military out there in the world."